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In this episode, we explore five strange fossilized footprints found by Mary Leakey at the site of Laetoli in Tanzania. Decades after their original discovery, these footprints have revealed a new story about our ancient ancestors that expands our understanding of how hominins moved and interacted. ThanksThanks to Dr. Ellison McNutt and Dr. Charles…
 
In this episode, we talk with Evan Hadingham, senior science editor for the PBS program NOVA. His new book, Discovering Us: 50 Great Discoveries in Human Origins, highlights the thrilling fossil finds, groundbreaking primate behavior observations, and important scientific work of Leakey Foundation researchers. Want to win your own copy of the book?…
 
2021 was a big year in science! Fossil discoveries introduced new relatives to our family tree, new findings added fascinating twists to the human story, and breakthroughs in research methods opened new worlds to explore. In this episode, five scientists discuss their favorite human origins discoveries of 2021. Click here for a transcript of this e…
 
As a young girl, Biruté Mary Galdikas dreamed of going to the forests of Southeast Asia to study the least-known of all the great apes, the elusive orangutan. People told her it would be impossible. But, in 1971, she traveled to Borneo and started what is now the longest ongoing study of orangutans in the history of science. This is her story. She …
 
Scientists agree that dogs evolved from wolves, but exactly how and when that happened is hotly contested. In this episode, Origin Stories contributor Neil Sandell examines the evolution of the relationship between dogs and humans, and explores the journey from wolf to dog. This story was originally produced for the CBC program IDEAS. Click here fo…
 
Learn about the evolution of our extraordinary ability to cool ourselves down. Biological anthropologist Andrew Best discusses the past, present, and future of sweat in this special bonus episode. About our guest Dr. Andrew Best is a biological anthropologist at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts who studies metabolism, endurance, and the ev…
 
Producer and scientist Kevin McLean travels to an island off the coast of Panama where researchers have found an isolated group of monkeys with a creative approach to surviving in a challenging environment. Links These tiny monkeys have entered their Stone Age with a bang First report of habitual stone tool use by Cebus monkeys Habitual Stone-Tool …
 
The widely-held idea known as the “obstetrical dilemma” is a hypothesis that explains why babies are so helpless, and why childbirth is so difficult for humans compared to other animals. The obstetrical dilemma suggests that babies are born early so their big brains can fit through the mother’s pelvis, which can’t get any wider due to our method of…
 
Sleep is one of the defining traits of human life. It's also one of the most mysterious. Dr. Horacio de la Iglesia is a neurobiologist who's on a quest to understand how patterns of human sleep evolved. His new research shows an unexpected connection between sleep and the cycles of the moon. Send us your questions! Have a question about human evolu…
 
What is it like to study an endangered species like chimpanzees, knowing they may go extinct within your lifetime? Leakey Foundation grantee Dr. Zarin Machanda is a co-director of the Kibale Chimpanzee Project, a long-term field study in Uganda. This study was started by primatologist Richard Wrangham in 1987, and project members have collected dai…
 
Your life story is hidden in your teeth. The days, weeks, years, and stressful events of your life are recorded in tiny timelines that can be read by scientists like Leakey Foundation grantee Dr. Tanya Smith. She and her colleagues used fossil teeth to tell a detailed and intimate story about the lives of two Neanderthal children and the changing w…
 
Early prehistorians had little more than stones and bones to work with as they tried to piece together the story of the Neanderthals, but today’s researchers work in ways that early prehistorians could never have imagined. Archaeologist and author Rebecca Wragg Sykes' new book Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Art, and Death synthesizes more than a …
 
If exercise is healthy, why do so many people avoid doing it? If we're born to be active, why is it so hard to keep your New Year's resolutions about exercise? On this episode, learn about the powerful instincts that cause us to avoid exercise even though we know it’s good for us. Dan Lieberman, author of the new book Exercised: Why Something We Ne…
 
In 2017, Dr. Isaiah Nengo announced the discovery of a 13 million-year-old fossil ape found in Kenya. This remarkable fossil, nicknamed Alesi, was from a time period where there’s a big blank spot in the fossil record of our family tree. Alesi tells us something new about the early evolution of apes and shows what the common ancestor of humans and …
 
Variation in human skin color has fascinated and perplexed people for centuries. As the most visible aspect of human variation, skin color has been used as a basis for classifying people into “races.” In this lecture, Leakey Foundation grantee Dr. Nina Jablonski explains the evolution of human skin color and discusses some of the ways that harmful …
 
September 30 is International Podcast Day and on this episode, we’re handing things over to producer Lucía Benavides, who sat down with Leakey Foundation grantee María Martinón-Torres for an interview about her life and career. This bonus episode is entirely in Spanish. We’ll be back with an English-language episode in October. Special thanks to Du…
 
Atapuerca is a place that holds the mystery of human evolution in Europe from 1.2 million years ago through recent times. You can find, in one place, the oldest human in Europe, the first murder in the archaeological record, and fossils that tell a range of stories from disturbing and grisly to tender and heartwarming. María Martinón-Torres is a Le…
 
What is it like to be responsible for the safekeeping of the ancestors of everyone in the world? In this episode, we travel to the National Museum of Ethiopia to see our most famous fossil relative – Lucy, and meet Yared Assefa, the person who takes care of her and all of our Ethiopian fossil ancestors and relatives. If you love fossils, you won't …
 
Have you ever considered how profoundly food has shaped who we are as a species? Julie Lesnik is a paleoanthropolgist who studies the evolution of the human diet. Her special focus is on insects as food in the past, present, and the future. Additional Information Read more about Julie Lesnik's work and check out her book Edible Insects and Human Ev…
 
Deep in the forests of Borneo, lives a society of hunter-gatherers who speak a language never before shared with outsiders. Until now. The Cave Punan are the last surviving hunter-gatherers in Indonesia and they have reached out for help to save their forest home and their culture. In 2018, Leakey Foundation grantee Steve Lansing was invited by the…
 
What happens when bows and arrows and face-to-face conversations are replaced by high powered weapons and cell phones practically overnight? Dr. Polly Wiessner is an anthropologist who has studied the Enga of Papua New Guinea for 30 years and her current research is focused on how traditional societies cope with rapid cultural change. This episode …
 
A mysterious new human relative was discovered ten years ago from a pinky bone found in a Siberian cave. They're called the Denisovans, and people around the world carry their DNA today. Until just a few months ago, the sum total of all the fossils the Denisovans left behind could fit in the palm of your hand. Now new research is unlocking more of …
 
In this episode, we explore the story of Piltdown Man – one of the most notorious hoaxes in history. When Piltdown Man was discovered in a gravel pit outside a small English village in 1912, it was celebrated as a "missing link." The find captured the public's imagination and became world-famous. The problem was that Piltdown Man was a complete fra…
 
In the final installment of our "From the Archive" series, Kenyan paleoanthropologist Louis S.B. Leakey shares the story of his life and work in a never-before-released interview recorded in 1969. The Leakey Foundation was formed 1968 in honor of Louis Leakey and we are proud to carry on his mission of increasing scientific knowledge, education, an…
 
Mary Leakey was called the "grand dame" of archaeology. She was a methodical and exacting scientist who made some of the world's most significant archaeological discoveries. In this lecture from The Leakey Foundation archive, Mary Leakey tells the story of Olduvai Gorge, the place where she found fossils that completely changed our understanding of…
 
Tepilit Ole Saitoti was a Maasai warrior, author, and natural resources expert. In this lecture from The Leakey Foundation archive, Saitoti tells his life story, discusses Maasai culture, and explores the challenges faced by the Maasai people. Learn more and see photos on our blog. Want to support Origin Stories? All donations are being matched 4:1…
 
Raymond Dart was getting dressed for a wedding when he was given two boxes of rocks and fossils. Inside the boxes, he found the first evidence of humanity’s African origins. This episode tells the story of the 1924 discovery of the Taung Child through a never-before-released lecture by Dr. Raymond Dart. Show Notes The Leakey Foundation is celebrati…
 
In this never-before-released archival lecture from 1974, anthropologist Margaret Mead discusses the lives of women from prehistoric through modern times. Show Notes The Leakey Foundation is 50 years old this year, and we’re celebrating this milestone by sharing rare, previously unreleased lectures from the Foundation’s archive. These talks are lik…
 
In this never-before-released archival lecture from 1973, the legendary primatologist Dian Fossey tells the story of the early years of her groundbreaking mountain gorilla research. Show Notes The Leakey Foundation is 50 years old this year, and we’re celebrating this milestone by sharing rare, previously unreleased lectures from the Foundation’s a…
 
Carl Sagan explores the evolution of human intelligence from the big bang, fifteen billion years ago, through today in this never-before-released archival lecture. Show Notes The Leakey Foundation is 50 years old this year, and we’re celebrating this milestone by sharing rare, previously unreleased lectures from the Foundation’s archive. These talk…
 
A scientist solves the mystery of the only known chimpanzee civil war...thus far. In 1960, Louis Leakey sent Jane Goodall to start her study of chimpanzees at Gombe National Park, Tanzania. Her first decade of research led her to think that chimpanzees were like nicer versions of humans. But in the early 1970s, the Gombe chimp community split in tw…
 
The stories and songs of prehistoric people are lost. Their art and artifacts are all that remain of their culture. The painted caves of Ice Age Europe are the world's most famous examples of prehistoric art. What does this art reveal about the people who made it? Why did they paint those images on cave walls? What do the images mean? Jean Clottes …
 
Three true tales about what it's like to do field research. Kelly Stewart, Dorothy Cheney, and Robert Seyfarth share stories of gun smuggling, pet leeches, close encounters with hippos, and fan mail from one of the world's most infamous mass murderers. This bonus episode was recorded live at a Leakey Foundation Fellows event in 2016. The Leakey Fou…
 
For a long time, scientists have been searching for the first Homo sapiens in the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia. The story we've been telling about the origin of our species has gone something like this: Around 200,000 years ago in East Africa, the first Homo sapiens emerged, splitting off from an ancestral species, possibly Homo erectus. We had bi…
 
The stories and songs of prehistoric people are lost. Their art and artifacts are all that remain of their culture. The painted caves of Ice Age Europe are the world's most famous examples of prehistoric art. What does this art reveal about the people who made it? Why did they paint those images on cave walls? What do the images mean? Jean Clottes …
 
One of the big questions in the study of human evolution is the question of how our ancestors spread across the world. Our species evolved in Africa and migrated around the world from there. Most people on earth today are mixed descendants of multiple migrations to different places. Somewhere in almost everyone’s family history, whether it was last…
 
It's not every day you see a Facebook post that changes your life, but that's exactly what happened to Leakey Foundation grantee Alia Gurtov. Gurtov was checking her Facebook feed one morning and saw a post from paleoanthropologist Lee Berger. He was looking for archaeologists who were "...skinny and preferably small. They must not be claustrophobi…
 
The paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey described stone tools as “fossilized human behavior.” These rocks, shaped by our human ancestors and found in archaeological sites around the world, can give us clues about how ancient people lived. Archaeologist and Leakey Foundation grantee John Shea of Stony Brook University says you can learn even more by ma…
 
Just recently, the news media announced the discovery of a 13 million-year-old fossil ape called Alesi. This remarkable fossil was found in Kenya, and it’s from a time period where there’s a big blank spot in the fossil record of our family tree. Alesi tells us something new about the very early evolution of apes and even shows what the common ance…
 
Why do people risk their own lives to save a stranger? Why do we share food or give money to charity? The human capacity for altruism has been a puzzle for scientists since Darwin. In this episode of Origin Stories, primatologist Joan Silk explores the evolution of altruism and cooperation. In our Being Human Bonus segment, we share a story of huma…
 
Every animal that lives in groups has to make decisions as a group. Even a seemingly simple decision like "where should we go for dinner?" can be complicated to negotiate. Is there a simple rule behind how humans and other animals make group decisions? Margaret Crofoot is a primatologist and Leakey Foundation grantee whose research on baboons sugge…
 
Humans have evolved very differently from other primates. Is there one thing responsible for humans becoming human? Some evolutionary biologists think that the way we process our food, namely cooking it, could explain why our species developed so differently from others. Did cooking make us human? Dr. Richard Wrangham of Harvard University and Dr. …
 
The Power Paradox What is power? Where does social power come from? What happens in our bodies and with our behavior when we have power and when we don't? What can we learn about lasting social power from small-scale hunter-gatherer societies? Dacher Keltner is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the faculty dir…
 
Humans and our recent ancestors have been accomplished endurance runners for more than a million years. Our evolutionary history as runners partly accounts for why aerobic exercise is such a key component of human health. In this talk, recorded in July 2016, Daniel Lieberman explores how and why the human body evolved to run long distances. Daniel …
 
Every day for 55 years a dedicated group of researchers, students, and field assistants have spent their days crawling through thorns and vines as they follow chimpanzees to observe their behavior. They write everything down in notes and on maps and checksheets. This episode continues the story of Jane Goodall's pioneering Gombe chimpanzee research…
 
Humans are very verbal compared to other animals. We talk constantly, and our voices can signal many things beyond the meaning of our words. The human voice is also highly differentiated between the sexes. In this live recording of our Being Human event in February 2016, Dr. David Puts explores how studying the human voice can be a good way to gain…
 
People have been fascinated with Neanderthals since they were first discovered in the mid-1800s. For a long time, they have been seen as dumb, brutish cavemen. As more discoveries have been made in the past few decades, our picture of who Neanderthals were and how they lived has shifted dramatically. In this episode we talk with Shara Bailey, a Lea…
 
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